What makes the synagogue fundraising cookbook different from other synagogue fundraising cookbooks?
After all, this volume, Feeding Our Souls—like others published by Synagogues, in this case, Caldwell’s Congregation Agudath Israel—is similar in many ways to these others.
As in other such projects, community members are invited to share their favorite dishes, a panel of testers and tasters examine the orders, and the final product offers cherished family recipes that are often handed “sedor,” from generation to generation.
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What is nastana? Well, while many of the recipes reflect Jewish culinary customs and are a traditional holiday food (in keeping with this theme, including Matzoh Crunch and Flourless Chocolate Cake), in Feeding Our Souls you won’t find chicken broth, breast meat, or chopped liver – Or, in this regard, Sephardi dishes such as kofta, kebabs and katzizot.
The lack of such dishes is explained by the subtitle of the book: “Vegetable cookbook” – so there is no decorative dish in its pages.
There is another great “mah nashtaneh”. Unlike other synagogue cookbooks, in Feeding Our Souls, along with recipes for challah, kugel, and lean meats, you’ll also discover instructions on how to make Christmas cherry cookies, Colcannon (a mixture of potatoes and Irish cabbage associated mainly with St. Patrick), and Gullac (a Turkish dessert served during the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims).
For this cookbook, it was a work of love and inclusion compiled with the health benefits of our bodies and earth in mind and the interfaith harmony that comes from sharing the riches of our tables and foods.
It should come as no surprise that the group of CAI devotees who worked to “Feed Our Souls” were chosen from the Synagogue’s Environment and Interfaith Committees.
According to Cookbook Chair (and CAI Interfaith Committee) Jill Kleinman of Fairfield, the seed for the post was sown after CAI’s expanded Earth Day 2020 program on Zoom that included members of the Christian and Muslim communities of environmental activists and interfaith bridge-building champions.
The program’s focus was on food – specifically food from plants and how a diet that eliminates meat brings benefits to the well-being of individual consumers – and, from a global perspective, the planet.
In conversation with Ms. Kleinman after the meeting, Harriet Sepinwall of Pine Brook, chair of the Environmental Committee, which put the program together, asked, “Where do we go from here?” Realizing that many people may be motivated by the mission and messages of the participants. Mrs. Kleinman said this when she replied, “Why don’t we do a cookbook?” Mrs. Sepinwall caught the idea and pushed it forward.
Besides helping to “increase links between diverse religious groups”, the publication was planned with the idea that “what we choose to eat has a significant impact beyond meals on our plates,” Ms Kleinman said. “We wanted those who use the recipes we collect to advance better health for themselves, their loved ones, and our planet – in a delicious way.”
The Cookbook Committee was formed and reached out not only to members of the CAI – dozens of whom responded – but beyond, to members of other religious communities, to compile a book that reflects those values.
Organizers took advantage of the synagogue’s well-established relationships to order recipes. Susan Werk of Caldwell, CAI’s director of education, called friends and colleagues from the West Essex Ministerial Association, who offered loyal support and sent word asking for recipes from their partners.
With CAI’s well-established relationships with the Institute of Peace Islands, Muslim friends were asked to share dishes to celebrate their traditions.
The response was encouraging. In the end, the 100 recipes in the book were from 53 contributors from different faiths and cultures.
Ms. Sepinwall said Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book “Eating Animals” launched the collaborative project. While the health benefits of a vegetarian diet are widely understood, Ms. Sepinwall recognized that if “breaking bread together is an ideal way to stretch out the divisions among our religious communities, it makes sense that this ‘bread’ would be meat-free. After all, It’s very hard to find someone who doesn’t eat vegetarian!”
Recipes range from appetizers, drinks, soups, salads, vegetables, and side dishes to breads, wraps, main dishes, and desserts. The section covering holiday dishes includes Vegetarian Chollent with Jachnun Topping, Frijoles Negros (a Cuban dish on Christmas Eve), and Ramadan Turkish pancakes (a traditional bread served for Ramadan Iftars).
While the recipes are at the heart of Feeding Our Souls, the other sections present the work mission. An article from Ms. Kleinman and her cookbook chair, Deborah Schwenk, persuasively invites readers to welcome healthy traditions to their tables, emphasizing that “if you want to achieve better health for yourself, your loved ones, and our planet, this cookbook will help you with that transformation.” Talking about the physical benefits of vegetarianism to the individual, the positive impact of widespread acceptance of such a diet on the climate and the environment, and how its adoption can help alleviate food insecurity, they offer compelling arguments to persuade readers to undergo this transformation. Their invocation of the spiritual benefits of vegetarianism supports their arguments. They wrote, “It is always possible to divide bread together through vegetarian food,” allowing us “to recognize and understand how we are all “more human than others” while still preserving our identity, beliefs and traditions.”
In his preface to the book, the chief rabbi of Agudath Israel, Ari Lucas of Caldwell, writes about the kitchen’s ties to Jewish identity and cites Genesis to prove that “one of the hallmarks of heaven is a vegetarian diet,” whereby God gives permission for the first humans to partake of the plants in the world God created. just yet. Rabbi Lucas posits that with all of the complex Jewish laws and restrictions surrounding animal consumption—and acknowledgment that one of the aims of the food laws was to “educate the Jews of their place in the natural order of God’s creation”—the kashrut may actually have meant “to motivate Jews to be vegetarians.”
Sister Honora Werner of Caldwell – Director of the Doctorate of Ministry at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in Caldwell Dominican – sister of St. Dominic and a major proponent of interfaith relations and the dissemination of “Feeding Our Souls” – explores in depth the relationship of Christianity with dietary restrictions and how the Vegetarian Christian Association promotes strengthening the religious faith of “love” Mercy and Peace” and represents “the agency responsible for all of God’s creation.”
Hakan Yesilova of Clifton, editor of The Fountain Magazine – and contributor to the Gullac recipe – offers an insightful Islamic perspective on a vegetarian diet. He notes that “our spiritual traditions stem from a common call for alignment with the universe and the natural world” and notes, citing the Qur’an, that human beings “are not only meant to be ‘agents of the earth’ and ‘good’ servants…but they should also aspire to Until they are “unparalleled mercy for all.”
Yesilova explains that “being a host requires ‘care’ in full compliance with ‘order’, not by upsetting its balance. Being merciful qualifies this care to reflect the God-given dignity of man and to project it as broadly as possible to all creation”, including, Of course, animals.
Many of the recipes are accompanied by personal reflections on the dishes and how they evoke memories of family gatherings and carry the culinary habits of future generations; There are also Memories and Insights in the section called From Our Recipe Contributors. Maeda Richlin remembers her grandmother, a Russian immigrant, teaching her how to make challah using a cut-up teacup without a handle to measure out the flour. Jane Eisenberg and Bhubesh Bansal talk about the spread of vegetarianism in India and their contribution to the recipe for the Poha breakfast dish from Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the original city of Bansal.
Brief descriptions of the holidays represented by dishes in the book, a comprehensive bibliography of works on vegetarian cooking, many highlighting the different traditions on display, and “helpful hints” pages to help the home-cook complete the heaping volume.
We have to say one word about what is certainly no less attractive to the book: the abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables that appear on the book’s cover. It was created by artist and CAI owner Marilyn Rose of West Caldwell, who also didn’t accidentally suggest the title.
Feed Our Souls orders include a comb-link cookbook, electronic version (for recipes only) and a gift board book.
Cost $18 per book; Orders can be picked up from the Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell or shipped for an additional $4 per book. The net proceeds will be donated to local food banks.
To order the cookbook, go to Agudath.org/form/nourishing-our-souls-cookbook.